On first listen, there isn’t anything dramatic or jarring that would separate this Oliver Wood solo effort from the majority of his work as a guitarist, singer, and songwriter for The Wood Brothers. Wood is at his strongest here, as he is there, when he’s reconstructing the blues, incorporating various shades of folk, gospel, jazz, New Orleans, and soul into his hue, not unlike the finer compositions of his sibling-led trio. And, only the conspicuous absence of his brother and bassist, Chris, from this thoroughly entertaining 11-song set makes it a first fantastic solo album from its creator rather than the next in the line of terrific albums from his band.
Produced in part by his Brothers bandmate, Jano Rix, (who also adds a variety of musical contributions, including chicken coop), the hallmarks of Wood’s artistry are intact and in the forefront. There’s the lo-fi, bleeding slide guitar- best on “Molasses”- and the skipping-down-Main groove of “Fine Line,” that serve to accent Wood’s ruminations on the ongoing boulder-pushing of life and the Americana characters that share their strategies; the album’s title derives from the opening “Kindness,” whose lead always smiles, as kindness is his religion.
There are notable and familiar guests, including John Medeski on organ, and Susan Tedeschi and Tyler Greenwell of Tedeschi Trucks Band fame, on vocals and drums, respectively. That’s possibly the biggest difference from a Wood Brothers outing- the inclusion of over a dozen friends in on the fun- and it lends a loose, celebratory feel to the collection; like hanging at the best Saturday barbeque of the summer: “Face of Reason,” evoking sunshine and sandals boogie, finding contrast with the dusky “Soul of This Town,” easing into the Delta darkness of “Unbearable Heart.” In the end, “Climbing High Mountains (Tryin’ the Get Home)” and its clap-along, train-chug to the peak of a Sunday sermon, sums up the album; inspired, gracious, and festive in spite of the struggle.